updated 1/10/2014 11:04:23 AM ET 2014-01-10T16:04:23

HARDBALL
January 9, 2014

Guests: John Wisniewski, Rep. Bill Pascrell, Michael Grimm, Valerie Huttle

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Bridge over troubled waters.

Let`s play HARDBALL.

Good evening. I`m Chris Matthews in Washington.

"Let Me Start" tonight where Governor Christie left off today. I want
you, the people watching right now and the people involved in this
escapade, to answer some common sense questions. Call them the smell test.

Did Governor Christie truly believe that the four days of long traffic
backups at the George Washington Bridge last September were caused by a
research project? If so, why didn`t he put his foot down, when it was
going on day after day, and try to stop the stupid thing? Are we to
believe that this famously blunt Christie was stricken with a bout of meek
passivity?

And did Christie keep on swallowing this research project story for
all these months since September? Did he refuse to negotiate -- or to
investigate, rather, what he knew -- or who knew what was behind the
traffic tieup because he bought that story or because he didn`t?

And are we to believe that the feisty governor was still in the dark
on what his people were up to as he watched his two big-time appointments
on the bridge authority itself being forced to resign?

Well, who is this new Chris Christie we haven`t met before, this quiet
fellow who doesn`t ask questions, believes whatever he`s told, shows zero
curiosity, only knows what his team is up to when he is drying off himself
after his morning workout the other day and reads about it in "The Bergen
Record"? That`s when he learns things, I guess.

Well, who is this "See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" character
who moves as an innocent while his troops in Trenton, the Port Authority
and in his campaign headquarters administer corporal punishment on those
who failed to march to Christie`s music?

And how could we not -- hearing his heart`s shout of innocence this
morning, not hear the echo of that scene from Rick`s Cafe Americain that
still leads the band for proclamations of hurt innocence?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I am humiliated by the fact that
I did not know this and that I was deceived. And that`s an awful way to
feel.

HUMPHREY BOGART, "CASABLANCA": How can they close me up? On what
ground?

CLAUDE RAINS, ``CASABLANCA``: I`m shocked, shocked to find that
gambling is going on in here!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your winnings, sir.

RAINS: Oh, thank you very much. Everybody out at once!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: What Christie said today could be perfectly, even
exquisitely true. But was it the whole truth and nothing but?

Jonathan Capehart is an opinion writer for "The Washington Post," and
Michael Steele was chairman of the Republican National committee. Both
are, of course, MSNBC political analysts.

Jonathan, I want to start with you. His defense seems to be two-part.
One, he began to get interested in this thing around December, and he
called his staff people in and said, Do you know anything about this thing?
He gave them an hour to say yes or no, then he goes out and tells the press
they didn`t know (ph) a thing about it.

As for September, when the bridge hold-up -- tie-ups began, all the
way through December, his answer on questioning was, I believed the
research project story, this traffic study. I believed it whole. I never
questioned it. I assumed it was the reason why -- four hours each day four
days in a row was the reason for it. I never questioned it. I never
through there was political hanky-panky or payback going on.

That`s the hard part. That`s the hard part that could have been
conscious effort on his part not to investigate, conscious effort on him
not to know what he didn`t want to know. And that, of course, is very hard
to get to because it`s in the head.

JONATHAN CAPEHART, "WASHINGTON POST," MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right,
right. It`s in the head. But here`s the thing, and I think our colleague,
Steve Kornacki, has been talking about this. When Bridget Anne Kelly,
who`s the woman who sent...

MATTHEWS: Don`t you love the name Bridget?

(LAUGHTER)

MICHAEL STEELE, FMR. RNC CHAIR, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Old school.
Old school.

CAPEHART: ... who sent the infamous e-mail that said...

MATTHEWS: Bridget!

CAPEHART: ... time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee, Steve said
it strains credulity that someone like that, who has been with Christie for
a long time, would do something like that and the governor wouldn`t know
about it.

MATTHEWS: Or that she could speak for him with such authority...

CAPEHART: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... that the guy over at the bridge commission would say,
Sure, babe. Sure.

CAPEHART: Right. Or...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... just call me up, I`m going to stop the bridge traffic
for four days because you call me up without me ever calling back the chief
of staff or the guy`s counsel...

CAPEHART: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... or somebody say -- Is this what really Chris wants me
to do?

CAPEHART: Right.

MATTHEWS: Because this may be against the law!

CAPEHART: But Chris, here is the thing. She sent that at 7:34 AM.
She got a response back at 7:35 AM. There was no phone call. There was
no...

MATTHEWS: So you think there might have been that -- it was a cue,
that they had set up ahead of time?

STEELE: It was cued up.

MATTHEWS: What (ph) you (ph)?

STEELE: It was cued up. I said on your program about a month-and-a-
half ago that, Let`s just wait to see what the governor knew and when he
knew it. And right now, today, I think this press conference opens up the
door for more questions. And it really was, I think, short term. It gives
him some room, not a lot, because you`ve got folks pleading the 5th.
You`ve got folks still possibly revealing stuff. So this is going to be a
story for a while and it`s amazing...

MATTHEWS: Did you buy this...

STEELE: ... how the worm turns.

MATTHEWS: I`m sorry, Michael. Did you buy the Chris Christie he
presented today? First of all, he`s humble. He should have been humble.
He was apologizing to everybody on the planet.

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: For what, I`m not sure because he said he was screwed by
his own staff people. I was wondering what he apologized for because he
said Bridget whatever her name is did the whole thing on him. And then, of
course, Wildstein and the other guy, Baroni, over at the bridge authority
did. And of course, he fired his campaign manager, too. They were all
doing it all around him, but he`s the only one that doesn`t know what`s
going on.

Did you buy the fact that he`s sort of a passive, meek, sort of Don
Knotts character -- I didn`t know what was going on!

STEELE: No, I did.

MATTHEWS: All around me, these people were so political! I don`t
know anything about this.

STEELE: I don`t think -- I don`t really think that...

MATTHEWS: This is Chris Christie?

STEELE: ... was his approach -- I don`t think that was his approach
at all, and I have no clue what`s going on, woe is me.

MATTHEWS: He did say that today!

STEELE: Look, there is within those executive wings that space of
deniability that the staff often provides...

MATTHEWS: OK...

STEELE: ... the chief executive. I think that`s part of what
happened here, to some degree. And there`s probably stuff that he did not
know...

MATTHEWS: But she said -- she was...

STEELE: ... that was revealed to him.

MATTHEWS: ... clearly -- she clearly comes across in the actual
facts, none of which he gave us. "The Bergen Record" gave us all the
facts.

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: He didn`t give us one new fact.

STEELE: Right. Right.

MATTHEWS: And she clearly had...

STEELE: And I don`t know if that should be his place, but...

MATTHEWS: ... a reputation as being the person who could be his
enforcer. When she sends that little e-mail...

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: ... that says, Time for traffic problems in Fort Lee, Port
Authority, as you point out, answered in seconds, practically. So
everybody over in the Port Authority, these big shots, said, She`s the one
talking for the governor.

Anyway, today, in his extraordinary press conference today we all
watched, Governor Christie delineated his line of defense, beginning with
an unambiguous apology, which wasn`t clear what he was apologizing for.
But here he is. Let`s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: I come out here to this office, where I`ve been many times
before, and I come out here today to apologize to the people of New Jersey.
I apologize to the people of Fort Lee. And I apologize to the members of
the state legislature.

I am embarrassed and humiliated by the conduct of some of the people
on my team. There`s no doubt in my mind that the conduct that they
exhibited is completely unacceptable and showed a lack of respect for the
appropriate role of government and for the people that we`re trusted to
serve.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that`s four people, of course, the two on the bridge
authority, and of course, he said, campaign manager, Mr. Stepien, and of
course, Bridget Anne Kelly, who`s going to be quite famous now.

Here`s Christie announcing that his top deputy, Bridget Kelly, he says
lied to him about her involvement in this matter and would have to go.
She`s the chief deputy the -- chief deputy -- deputy chief of staff,
rather. That`s her title. And she wrote, The time for traffic problems in
Fort Lee has arrived, in her e-mail. Here she is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: There`s no justification for ever lying to a governor or a
person in authority in this government. And as a result, I`ve terminated
Bridget`s employment immediately this morning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, he never talked to her and tell her -- didn`t tell
her to her face he was doing it. He didn`t have any conversation with her,
apparently, subsequent to this news story yesterday.

Anyway, then comes the heartbreak and betrayal. Here he talks about
that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: I am heartbroken that someone who I permitted to be in that
circle of trust for the last five years betrayed my trust.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, finally, Christie said he was completely astonished
at what his staff and appointees had been doing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: Let me tell you, everybody, I was blind-sided yesterday
morning. I was done with my workout yesterday morning and got a call from
my communications director at about 8:50, 8:55 informing me of this story
that had just broken on "The Bergen Record" Web site. That was the first
time I knew about this. It`s the first time I had seen any of the
documents that were revealed yesterday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: It`s very interesting -- not to do too much of a biblical
study of his words today, because we all watched it for a couple of hours
this morning -- that his real indictment of his now former deputy chief of
staff is that she lied to him on that occasion in December.

It wasn`t that she engaged in political skullduggery. It wasn`t so
much that she went ahead and tried to punish some mayor in Fort Lee because
that didn`t seem to walk too far away from his own thinking, apparently.
But it did bug him she lied to him.

And yet, isn`t it odd on the moment you`re to be have a press
conference an hour later, you call your staff and you say, If anybody has
anything to tell me on this, you got an hour to tell me or else you`re
finished, basically.

It was almost -- was it a setup. Why an hour? Why give people an
hour to come clean?

CAPEHART: Well, he was...

MATTHEWS: I`m just curious.

CAPEHART: I think he was going out to do a press conference, I think,
an already scheduled press conference, and he figured he was going to be
asked about it. And so he wanted to be able to go out there and
definitively say that no one...

MATTHEWS: Why in December...

CAPEHART: ... no one was involved...

MATTHEWS: ... when this thing happened in September?

STEELE: Hey, that`s...

MATTHEWS: Why did he finally have a meeting with his staff on this
matter? I know why. Because the other defense had fallen apart, because
Wildstein and Baroni and those guys had stopped arguing this research
project, this traffic study defense. That was gone. And that was his
cover for the first two, three months. And once that cover was gone, he
needed a new one, which I, I`ve asked my staff and they said that they
didn`t do it. That covered him on the second half of this period of time.

CAPEHART: But his big problem throughout all of this is he -- when I
look at what happened today, I see two Chris Christies. What you showed
there was Chris Christie reading his prepared remarks. As you said at the
beginning, he was humble. He was contrite. I thought he was pitch
perfect.

MATTHEWS: Yes. It was a performance.

CAPEHART: Where the thing went off the rails was the second part, the
Q&A. And the longer he talked, the more...

STEELE: The more questions began...

CAPEHART: ... the more super-confident, full of himself Chris
Christie...

MATTHEWS: Did you like the way he choreographed...

CAPEHART: ... Chris Christie came forward.

MATTHEWS: ... the press conference -- Look, I -- that`s not the way
we do things here. You wait for me. And then he goes, You, not you, you!

CAPEHART: But that`s old style Chris Christie.

STEELE: That`s old...

CAPEHART: That`s Chris Christie, not the guy who walked out there and
said, I am hurt and troubled. And did you notice something else, Chris?
Not one time did he talk about how people in Fort Lee were inconvenienced,
the story about...

MATTHEWS: How about the coronary?

CAPEHART: ... EMS -- EMS vehicles...

STEELE: Right.

MATTHEWS: OK, here`s what I think...

CAPEHART: ... that were delayed in the...

MATTHEWS: That`s what I`m thinking about. We`re going to get into
this story the rest of the show.

CAPEHART: He didn`t humanize it.

MATTHEWS: You`re waiting in traffic for four hours. People got to go
to the bathroom, they got to go to work, little things that just drive you
crazy.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: We`ve all been in traffic jams like that. And the little
human functions you can`t perform -- you got to get there -- you got to get
-- and then you find out later that some politician did this to punish
another politician, whether it was a staff or whoever it was. Coronaries.
We all know -- whenever -- how many times have you felt guilty you haven`t
been able to get off to the side of the road fast enough to let an
ambulance through because you feel guilty. Get off to the side, and you
get mad at everybody that doesn`t do it.

CAPEHART: Right.

MATTHEWS: Right? And here`s a governor saying to the whole -- the
whole state, We`re not going to let the ambulance through. We`re all going
to stay here in this roadblock because I said so to -- or somebody on his
staff did -- to get even with somebody.

No. There are (ph) a case here. Somebody died in the hospital. I
can`t believe somebody`s not going to litigate this because of traumatic
experiences. When you have a heart condition and you don`t get to the
hospital in a situation where you`re having a heart event, you better get
there as fast as you can. If it turns out that the reason you were four
hours late or whatever to getting there is some political machination going
on, I don`t believe there`s not a lawyer waiting there on television to
call in the case.

STEELE: I think there is, and there will be, certainly, in that
regard. But again, I think we need to step back from this. Today, as
before...

MATTHEWS: Step back -- why do you want to step back?

STEELE: I want to step back and look at the whole thing. I`m not
just g...

MATTHEWS: Yes, this guy was almost the Republican nominee for
president.

STEELE: Well, that`s fine. And you loved him. Everybody -- all the
people loved...

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: ... and now with the bridge thing, he`s -- all of the sudden,
it`s a target. So again, this was -- this is my point. Step back and look
at it from this perspective. There`s still nothing that has been brought
to light as of yet that says that Chris Christie knew of and authorized
this action to take place.

There is, and you all know this, having been on the Hill yourself...

MATTHEWS: Right.

STEELE: ... and worked with an executive...

MATTHEWS: OK...

STEELE: There is a level in which information does stop. There is a
cap. And the question is, was that cap broken? And did it eventually get
to him...

MATTHEWS: OK...

STEELE: ... and he knew about it, or did it really stop at the deputy
chief of staff or the chief of staff level? And that`s something that`s
still...

MATTHEWS: OK...

STEELE: ... to unfold -- unfold on that.

MATTHEWS: I noticed in working in politics all the years I did,
people even begin to look like their bosses. They dress like them.
(INAUDIBLE) people worked for Mondale ended up...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... the Kennedy people...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: They all do. And by the way, you knew what the boss wanted
done, and you did it. You anticipate -- like a good butler, you
anticipated what they wanted done. And that`s what you did.

If she thought this is what he wanted done, that`s interesting. I
want to know more.

Anyway, thank you, Jonathan Capehart. Thank you for that last-minute
pushback on behalf of your party, Michael Steele.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: Coming up: New Jersey state assemblyman leading in the
investigation into the bridge closure -- he`s coming here right now on
HARDBALL.

And this is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. While Chris Christie, the
governor, did his best to limit the political fallout of the George
Washington Bridge controversy today, the legal fallout is only just
beginning. There`s an army of legal investigations chomping (sic) at the
bit right now.

Take a look at this. The owner of "The Bergen Record" newspaper is
weighing a lawsuit alleges Christie`s office violated public records laws.
The Port Authority`s inspector general launched his investigation in
December. The U.S. Senate`s Transportation Committee is probing the issue
at the federal level.

And then there`s the very real risk of civil lawsuits arising from the
victims of that September traffic nightmare. For example, EMTs were
delayed in responding to a 91-year-old woman, who died of cardiac arrest in
the hospital.

While the U.S. attorney in Newark is opening his own criminal
investigation, or rather inquiry -- although NBC`s Pete Williams reports
that the feds say there`s no obvious federal crime involved, not at the
moment. And the state`s transportation committee has subpoenaed thousands
of pages of documents, only a handful of which the public is aware of,
which include those bombshell e-mails disclosed just yesterday.

Well, right now, the next shoe to drop is this, explanations from
Christie`s deputy, Bridget Kelly -- that`s deputy chief of staff -- who
ordered the George Washington Bridge lane closures and the Christie
appointee at the Port Authority who carried out her orders, David
Wildstein.

Kelly hasn`t been heard of since Christie fired her. As for
Wildstein, he appeared before the state`s transportation committee today,
but offered the committee`s chairman, John Wisniewski, nothing in the way
of answers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN WISNIEWSKI (D), NJ ASSEMBLY: OK, this e-mail communication, it
is not?

DAVID WILDSTEIN, FMR. PORT AUTHORITY EXEC.: On the advice of counsel,
I assert my right to remain silent, sir.

WISNIEWSKI: You can`t tell me whether it`s an e-mail or a text
message?

WILDSTEIN: Same answer.

WISNIEWSKI: Page 757 is a -- there are a lot of redactions on that
page, is there not?

WILDSTEIN: It`s the same answer, sir.

WISNIEWSKI: The answer being that you refuse to answer under the 5th
Amendment?

WILDSTEIN: That`s correct.

WISNIEWSKI: So you won`t even tell me if there is redactions on the
page?

WILDSTEIN: Same answers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, Joining me are two Democrats leading the charge in
the fight against Christie. John Wisniewski is a New Jersey assemblyman.
He`s a deputy speaker, in fact. And Bill Pascrell is, of course, the
United States congressman from New Jersey, and his district includes Fort
Lee.

I want to start with John Wisniewski, sir, Assemblyman. Let me ask
you about this. How soon are you going to get to Bridget Kelly? It seems
to me she would have a lot to say under oath, unless she takes the 5th like
the other fellow.

WISNIEWSKI: Bridget Kelly is next on our list, and we intend to issue
a subpoena to have her come and testify. But we still have a lot of
unanswered questions from David Wildstein and unanswered questions from
Bill Baroni. The problem we have, Chris, is every time we get an answer to
one question, we wind up with 10 more questions to ask.

MATTHEWS: What is your interest here? What do you want to find out?
Do you believe the governor told the truth today, or the whole truth, is my
question? Did he, in fact, give a credible statement today when he said
from the time of these bridge holdups, these four-hour holdups, which were
clearly ordered by somebody -- and they lasted four days and they caused
all kinds of trouble and anger -- he believed all that time there was a
traffic study involved and that some bureaucrat somewhere was academically
trying to count cars or some absurd story, and he fell for it and believed
it all the way through December when Wildstein began to say it wasn`t true.
And Baroni, as well.

Do you believe that`s credible that he fell for that, that he`s that
gullible, that naive to believe there wasn`t any hanky-panky here?

WISNIEWSKI: Well, Chris Christie is not a gullible and naive man.

It strains credibility for this governor. And if you have done any
business in Trenton, you know this is a governor who micromanages every
detail of his administration. It strains credibility that a deputy chief
of staff had the kind of authority or clout that she did to order lane
closures, or that David Wildstein would automatically respond to her
command without there being some other level of involvement by his
administration.

So, no, it just strains credibility. It`s just not a believable
hypothesis that he has offered.

MATTHEWS: Where do you see the -- do you see criminality here at the
bottom of this?

WISNIEWSKI: I don`t know.

Clearly, Pat Foye, the executive director of the agency, said that
federal and state laws were broken. And I will leave that to the
prosecutors and law enforcement agencies to look at. But, Chris, there was
an abuse of power here and then an attempt to cover up that abuse of power.

And what we need to get to the bottom of is, who abused the power, how
did they cover it up, and how do we make sure it doesn`t happen again?

MATTHEWS: Are you guys going to -- are you members of the assembly
going to subpoena Bridget Kelly next week, or how soon?

WISNIEWSKI: We`re going to issue a subpoena for Bridget Kelly, and
we`re going to issue a subpoena for other members of the governor`s
administration, Bill Stepien, the man he just asked him to step down as
state party Republican chairman. Two days ago, he asked him to become the
chairman. Two days later, he asked him to step down.

Michael Drewniak is a possible target for a subpoena because he is
involved in these e-mails, as are other members of the administration. The
list is pretty large, and we`re going to take it piece by piece. At the
end of the day, we want to get the answers that enable us to legislate, to
fix this problem, so it can`t happen again.

MATTHEWS: What does your experience tell you about politicians and
staff members? Do staff members take their lead in terms of where the
boundaries, what the mission is, or do they make it up?

WISNIEWSKI: No, I think every organization takes their model from the
leader of that organization. Chris Christie has been a bully and has
practiced these kind of tactics as governor.

It`s not hard to imagine that his administration and his staff looks
what he does and says these are the kind of things our governor endorses
and supports. But, at the end of the day, I can`t believe that Bridget
Kelly woke up one morning and decided to fire off an e-mail to close down
lanes on the George Washington Bridge without somebody else telling her
that`s something that needed to be done.

MATTHEWS: Give me an example, Assemblyman, of where you saw bullying
by the governor personally, you can...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... testify to it.

WISNIEWSKI: Well, the governor has bullied people who have come to
his town hall meetings to ask reasonable questions about his policies. The
governor has bullied members of the legislature. The governor has bullied
municipalities.

And so time and time again, we see a governor who when he doesn`t get
his way or he thinks that you`re challenging his authority, he uses his
bluster, he uses his scare tactics to try to get his way. And so it`s not
hard to imagine that people who work for him see that and they say, well,
that`s the model the governor has set for our behavior, and they find that
acceptable behavior.

But it`s not acceptable. And I think that what we`re finding out
today is this administration that engaged in very shady tactics.

MATTHEWS: OK, thank you, Assemblyman.

Like, during today`s press conference, of course, Governor Christie --
Governor Christie was asked point blank by CNN`s John King about a specific
part of the story which doesn`t make any sense. According to these e-mails
published yesterday, all Bridget Kelly had to say to Wildstein over at the
Port Authority -- quote -- "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" --
close quote -- and Wildstein seemed to know exactly what that meant.

It makes you wonder, did the foul line get moved by Kelly herself? In
other words, what did -- they both think this was what Christie was up to?
Clearly, she thinks the people over at the Port Authority thought this is
what the governor likes seeing done.

Anyway, here is King`s question and the governor`s response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KING, CNN: What do you ask yourself about they either thought
this was what the boss wanted, or as a group they were willing to go rogue
and do this and then try to cover it up and then lie to you?

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Well, listen, obviously -- I
said earlier, John, I`m heartbroken about it, and I`m incredibly
disappointed.

I don`t think I have gotten to the angry stage yet, but I`m sure I
will get there. But I`m just stunned. And what does it make me ask about
me? It makes me ask about me, what did I do wrong to have these folks
think it was OK to lie to me?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: There was -- there is something here.

Congressman Pascrell, I always liked the way you have directed your
questions at hearings and all that. This is like a weird kind of
narcissism. I mean, I don`t care what he feels like. I don`t care he is
disheartened. I don`t care he is sad. Who does? Nobody cares.

They want to know what he did. How did he signal to all these people
around him, his campaign manager, his deputy chief of staff, the big two
paid guys at the Port Authority, all that think he was into this
skullduggery, and all this young woman had to do was call up -- I`m sorry -
- is deliver a five- or six-word e-mail and they go to work for what they
thought was the governor.

And yet the governor says, I don`t know anything about this. What`s -
- that`s the problem I have. I don`t know anything about this thing.

REP. BILL PASCRELL JR. (D), NEW JERSEY: Well, you have two hours of
explaining. When you`re explaining, you`re losing. There is no question
about that.

This is not about e-mails. This is not about moving cones here and
there. This is not a joking matter. The governor attempted to make
himself the victim tonight -- today. The victims are the folks who live in
Fort Lee, New Jersey. They`re the only victims that are involved in this
case at this point.

So this thing unfolds like the onion. And here it is. We`re pushing
back, peeling that onion. And we`re learning more and more. Today, it
isn`t surprising to me that Wildstein takes the Fifth Amendment on even the
inane questions.

I would have him, if I was John, are you here today? Are you wearing
clothes?

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PASCRELL: I mean, this is a ridiculous slap in the face of democracy.
And if they think that this is the end of it, they`re mistaken. This is
the beginning of it.

MATTHEWS: Now, these guys aren`t going to run for office. They don`t
have to worry about public opinion that much. What is the downside of
these people just following their lawyers? They`re lawyered up to the
hilt. They`re all going to take the Fifth. As you pointed out, he
wouldn`t even say whether these are redactions or not.

And there they are and you`re looking at them on the paper. He
wouldn`t say if they`re there. So, what happened? What -- if these people
keep stonewalling, what do the people investigating this case going to get
out of this?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: How are they going to get to the governor?

PASCRELL: Right, Chris.

I`m interested to find -- I want to go back to the e-mails which I
think are not the priority here. It`s the actions that took place in the
beginning of September. I wrote a letter to Baroni on September the 13th.
He never answered it, which leads me to think that there is more to this
than meets the eye.

If we believe that the deputy secretary -- deputy official within the
governor`s office, Bridget, is the one who concocted this whole thing, then
come on, we`re only making more jokes. So he is not the victim. The
people in Fort Lee are the victim. It`s in my district. I`m going to make
sure that I`m involved. I kept my mouth closed now for a few months.

Now it`s time for me to step forward, because we want to see justice.
We want to make sure this never happens again. I mean, the Port Authority
should be designed to try to figure out how we can lower tolls, not keep on
increasing them every so often.

MATTHEWS: Yes.

PASCRELL: You need a wheelbarrow of money, Chris, to go over the
George Washington Bridge. That`s absolutely an absurdity. While these
guys are saying they`re reforming the place, it`s getting worse.

MATTHEWS: Yes, and four people, including her now, we know, on the
record all believed it was fun and games to close down the bridge...

(CROSSTALK)

PASCRELL: Oh, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: ... when -- when ambulances were trying to get through.

Anyway, thank you, U.S. Congressman Bill Pascrell.

PASCRELL: It`s a jocular situation, Chris. It`s a jocular situation
in their minds.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.

And thank you, Assemblyman John Wisniewski.

Up next: The tabloids up in New York and New Jersey are having a big
day with this Chris Christie story, as they should.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Back to HARDBALL. And time for the "Sideshow."

Tip O`Neill famously said that all politics is local, and in the case
of the George Washington Bridge scandal, nothing implies more about the
political stakes here than the front pages of the local newspapers in New
Jersey and New York. After all, it`s stories like these that make the best
tabloid fodder.

First, here is "The Trentonian," Which featured a cone-headed Chris
Christie, "I Have Got a Bridge to Sell You." And here is a more direct
headline from "The Asbury Park Press." "Do You Believe Him?" That`s a
question mark.

And then there`s "The New York Daily News," which poked fun at more
than just Christie`s diminishing 2016 prospects. Finally, New Jersey --
northern New Jersey`s "The Record" shows Christie with top aide Bridget
Kelly, "Stuck in a Jam."

By the way, here is why the latest developments in this scandal have
obvious political implications for Christie`s future. Let`s start with
Chris Christie, the governor. It`s his deputy chief of staff, Bridget
Kelly, who writes the now famous e-mail, "Time for some traffic problems in
Fort Lee." She sends it to David Wildstein, Christie`s appointee at the
Port Authority, who replies, "Got it."

In October, Wildstein writes to Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien
that Fort Lee`s mayor is angry. Stepien replies, "The mayor is an idiot.
Win some, lose some."

Eventually, Kelly and Wildstein collaborate with Christie`s press
secretary, Michael Drewniak, in a public statement, saying the lane
closures were part of a traffic study. Well, in November, Wildstein`s
superior at the Port Authority, Bill Baroni, another Christie appointee,
also says the closures were part of a traffic study.

At this point, Baroni, Kelly, and Wildstein have lost their jobs.
Stepien has lost his position with the Republican Governors Association and
was asked to drop his candidacy for state Republican Party chair. The big
question, of course, is what happens now to Chris Christie?

Up next, much more on the bridge scandal and the schadenfreude, joy
through other`s tragedies, among Republicans today that says, well, Chris
Christie, somebody who likes to throw punches, is now getting hit himself.

You`re watching HARDBALL, the place for politics.

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And doctors say cuts to the nation`s food stamp program may actually
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I`m Veronica De La Cruz. Let`s get you back to HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: Politics ain`t beanbag, OK. And everybody in the country
who engages in politics knows that. On the other hand, that`s very, very
different than saying that, you know, someone is a bully.

So I am who I am. But I am not a bully. And what I will tell you is
that the folks who have worked with me over a long period of time would, I
believe, tell you that I`m tough, but I have shown over the last four years
in the tone that we have set here that I`m willing to compromise, that I`m
willing to work with others.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS: Well, that was Governor Chris Christie this morning, of
course, giving perhaps too broad a defense, saying he is not a bully, in
his words.

Many of his political enemies would beg to differ, and they`re not
confined to the Democrats. As Maggie Haberman wrote in Politico yesterday
-- quote -- "Chris Christie is learning that being a party of one can be
pretty lonely when times get tough. Democrats predictably condemned the
New Jersey governor, but more notable was the dearth of Republicans out
there who rose to Christie`s defense. And, privately, the schadenfreude" -
- that`s the German word for joy through others` tragedy -- "expressed by
some of them that a man who has never been shy about taking shots at others
was suddenly on the receiving end."

That is Maggie Haberman`s commentary.

Well, today, he did get some tepid backing from allies like U.S.
Congressman Michael Grimm of Staten Island and Governor Nikki Haley of
South Carolina, as well as former Senate Scott Brown of Massachusetts,
maybe future senator for New Hampshire.

But the full-throated defenders are few and far between.

Mark Halperin is an MSNBC senior political analyst and the co-author
of "Double Down," the great new book, of course. And Eugene Robinson is a
columnist for "The Washington Post" and an MSNBC political contributor.

You know, let me ask you about too broad a defense here. It`s sort of
a theme here. Was Christie a little too much broad brush in saying things
like -- he had a couple of contradictory themes today. One was, politics
aren`t beanbag. We`re tough guys in this business. And the other one was,
I`m not a bully.

Well, which -- what message was he trying to get across? I thought he
was trying to sell a whole new Chris Christie today that nobody really knew
before, this meek sort of guy who is passive, who believes in bridge
traffic studies and falls for the front excuse for everything, the alibis,
and never questions anybody`s motives or his own staff`s behavior.

Your question -- your answer -- your question to you, Mark, did you
buy the new Christie today?

MARK HALPERIN, MSNBC SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, you go for
90 minutes plus, you`re going to have to say different things. You can`t
just keep repeating the same things.

I thought in the beginning he had some clearly rehearsed lines, some
pre-canned lines that were meant to set a different tone. But as the thing
went on, you saw a little bit of the typical Chris Christie. He is very
comfortable sparring with his statehouse press corps, which made up the
bulk of the room.

So, I think the message today was, as you say, it`s a little bit
sprawling. But if you just take it as a piece of theater, as a piece of
political action, I think he did enough with the message in that event to
get him through and put him in a better place afterwards than before.

But I -- it`s definitely the case that you can cherry-pick certain
things he said, particularly often a focus on himself, as opposed to...

MATTHEWS: Yes, a lot of the narcissism there.

HALPERIN: ... his constituents that I think -- that I think, again,
if you cherry-pick those, there were some moments that were -- that were a
little bit flabby.

MATTHEWS: He reminded me of certain news commentators on television
who focus a lot on themselves.

(LAUGHTER)

EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS: I`m sometimes guilty, but there are others that are
worse...

ROBINSON: Yes.

MATTHEWS: ... where it`s all about how he felt and how he feels today
and how this is reacting to him, and nothing about the public, really.

ROBINSON: Enough about what you think, Chris. What -- what about
what I think, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON: That was the whole focus. It`s that, you know, the sin
that Kelly committed was she lied to him. It wasn`t that she tormented the
people of Fort Lee for a whole week and messed up traffic and caused the
ambulance to be late or anything. No. It`s that she lied.

How dare she? She can`t lie to me. That`s disloyal. She must be,
you know?

MATTHEWS: The last king of Scotland.

ROBINSON: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: And don`t mess with me.

ROBINSON: I thought that was interesting. And he left open this
question of whether -- what the culture is like in his cabinet.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Why did all the people around him act a certain way
in collusion without thinking wait a minute, the governor wouldn`t want
this done. While didn`t Wildstein or Baroni or Stepien or, in this case,
Kelly say, you know, the governor doesn`t want us to be doing this.

ROBINSON: Right. Why just one line? Time for some traffic problems
in Fort Lee? One line was enough to trigger the whole thing, as if it was
kind of oh, yes, we know what to do. That was kind of weird.

MATTHEWS: Anyway, NBC`s Kasie Hunt asked Senator Lindsey Graham of
South Carolina today about Chris Christie`s scandal.

And the South Carolina Republican said, quote, "It reinforces a
narrative that`s troublesome about the guy. He is kind of a bully." This
is Lindsey Graham. "You know, being candid and forthright and speaking
truth to power is one narrative. But the other narrative is, you know, he
is a transactional politician. He rewards his friends and punishes his
enemies."

Senator Graham went on to say, quote, "If anybody in my office had
done such a thing, they knew what their fate would be because I`m not that
kind of guy. I just don`t see how people that close to him could have felt
comfortable enough to do this if they thought their boss wasn`t of this
mindset. Isn`t that just common sense?"

Let me go back to you on that, Mark. And I know you study these
things in the tradition of Theodore White, going beyond the headline
coverage, the daily coverage.

What does it tell you about Christie that so many people around him
got it wrong, that they thought he was a bully? They wanted to do some
bullying? Not the press. The people working for him thought he was a
bully. That`s why they were out doing some bully tactics.

MARK HALPERIN, "DOUBLE DOWN": Well, Chris, to believe that Chris
Christie said he didn`t know about this, he had to believe that some
members of his staff concocted this plan and executed it, kept it to
themselves, even when he was having this press conference, continued to lie
to him. Even when they were having e-mails of theirs turned over to this
committee, they continued not to tell him, and that he didn`t really
understand why there was a second resignation from the Port Authority.

All of that can be explained if you believe that in fact Christie did
know. And there are a lot of Republicans I`ve talked to in the last 48
hours who -- or 36 hours who have that view still, who say based on what
they know about Chris Christie, they say what they know about the nature of
his political operation, they just find it hard to believe, in some cases
extreme incredulity, that this operation could have been done.

Forget a culture. It`s more like the operation of how it would work.
You do this kind of thing in most places, you do that kind of thing, you
want credit for it. You don`t keep it to yourself if you`re going to do
it.

MATTHEWS: You know what I get the feeling, it`s always like when
people say they feel sorry for the Watergate people, all the ones who went
down. Their lives were ruined. I always say I got a worse one for you --
they got away with it.

ROBINSON: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Because if they had gotten away with it, we have had a
deviancy decline in the federal government that would have been historic,
if he`d get away with all that stuff. What`s next?

ROBINSON: Exactly.

MATTHEWS: And my question about this. Does -- do you as an expert on
politics, do you believe that "The Bergen Record": had not broken this
story yesterday and Kelly -- what`s her name, Bridget Kelly`s behavior here
and the e-mail hadn`t gotten out, do you think some time from months from
now when this thing cooled down and she said at a party late one night, I
was the one that kicked this thing off -- do you think he would have fired
her?

No, no, I don`t believe that in a minute.

ROBINSON: No, no --

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS: It wasn`t that. It was that she lied to him right before a
press conference. But even though, the real problem, her real sin was
getting caught.

ROBINSON: Well, exactly. She did get caught. Now, some of this
might have eventually come out because of the question about the traffic
study, right. At some point it was going to become clear that this wasn`t
a traffic study, right?

You know, at some point, it was going to be clear, I think that this
wasn`t a traffic study. And newspapers weren`t going to let it go. So,
people were still exercised about it.

But nonetheless, I think your point is a valid one. You know, what
would the consequences have been had it not blown up in the way that it
did.

MATTHEWS: He wasn`t going to blow her out unless he had to. By the
way, Chris Christie to this moment has not told us anything in the public
light, anything that wasn`t told by "The Bergen Record" and by the
investigators. He told us nothing.

ROBINSON: He`s got to know something, right?

MATTHEWS: It`s called rolling disclosure and it kills your
credibility.

Anyway, thank you, Mark Halperin. A real expert, "Double Down", out
there in the bookstores right now.

Eugene Robinson, thank you.

When we return, we`ll hear from a rare Christie defender out there.
I`m going ask U.S. Congressman Michael Grimm of New York why he is taking
Christie at his word.

This is HARDBALL, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: We`re back.

Most national Republicans have resisted coming to the defense of Chris
Christie, who at least before this scandal broke was considered -- and I
considered him -- a leading candidate for the Republican presidential
nomination in 2016.

One U.S. Republican congressman from New York, however, issued a
statement today praising the New Jersey governor for his leadership even
before his press conference had wrapped up. U.S. Congressman Michael Grimm
was put on the show before he said, quote, "Governor Christie demonstrated
true leadership and accountability during today`s press conference. I know
him to be a man of unquestionable honor and iron-clad integrity, and I take
him at his word."

U.S. Congressman Michael Grimm is a Republican congressman from New
York.

We also have joining us Valerie Huttle. She`s a Democrat of New
Jersey Assembly.

Thank you for joining us, Assemblywoman.

Let me go to Congressman Grimm. Do you believe the story we got today
from the governor? There is two parts of. One, he didn`t know there was a
problem with his staff until he got the story yesterday in the paper, in
"The Bergen Record".

And two, that he believed all the way from September, all the way up
until at least December, and perhaps even now that there may have been a
traffic study that explains the whole problem at the Jersey end of the
George Washington Bridge.

Do you believe him that he believed it was a traffic study that was at
the bottom of all this?

REP. MICHAEL GRIMM (R), NEW YORK: No question. As I said in my
statement, I take the governor at his word.

Listen, I know the governor, not very well, but for years I worked
under him technically as an undercover agent in a very high profile
undercover case while he was the U.S. attorney. And where I stand, he is a
man of honor and integrity, period. And I do take him at his word,
absolutely.

And, listen, he`s the governor of a very large state. The idea that
he`s going to look into a specific traffic study I think is ridiculous. No
governor probably would. This isn`t something that he would really
normally grab his attention. So, I do believe him.

MATTHEWS: Let`s talk about his reputation as a hands-on executive.
If you find out traffic`s been held up for four hours, that`s a dangerous
situation in commuting time with emergency vehicles and all having to get
through, we`ve seen what happened here, a person had a coronary trying to
get to the hospital and died in the hospital. These things happened. They
weren`t speculative.

You find out it was done for four days straight going into New York.
Your state goes into New York, largely through the Holland Tunnel, Lincoln
Tunnel, that bridge, and you don`t call up and say, what the hell is going
on there? Somebody tells you, oh, we`re just counting cars. That`s why.

You would fall for that as governor? You would say that`s all I want
to know?

GRIMM: Well, first of all, as far as all the things, somebody not
getting to the hospital on time -- again, there`s nothing to justify the
acts that led up to this. That`s first of all. It`s unjustifiable.

MATTHEWS: Would you buy it?

GRIMM: Do I think --

MATTHEWS: Would you buy it? Would you buy? No, seriously --

(CROSSTALK)

GRIMM: Would I have called up and said, what the heck is going on?
Absolutely. I would say what`s going on?

MATTHEWS: Would you take as the answer, we`re counting cars?

GRIMM: If someone said, yes, we`re performing a traffic study, it is
done all the time. I`m born and raised in New York. I`ve seen a lot worse
causing traffic not only in the Verrazano Bridge, but on all these bridges,
under Belt Parkway, the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. We can go on all night
if you want to talk about traffic nightmares that lasted much longer than
four days. Yes, unfortunately in this area, yes.

MATTHEWS: OK. That`s a bad standard of judgment. I mean, it`s a low
standard of expectations.

Anyway, let`s go to Valerie Huttle. He`s a member of the state
assembly. What do you make of this? The Chris Christie today, the sort of
meek guy, passive, accepting excuses, not knowing what his four staff
people are up to, his four appointees are up to and quietly accepting sort
of naivety?

Do you buy that? Is that the Chris Christie the one that exists or
the one that performed today?

VALERIE HUTTLE (D), NEW JERSEY ASSEMBLYWOMAN: It certainly is not the
Chris Christie we have seen in prior years.

You know, he should have been angry. Where was his anger? He was
very humble, and heartbroken over his staff.

I`m angry that my constituents suffered, you know, the threat of
public hazards, what you just talked about. I didn`t see that today. I
saw much humble demeanor and I can tell you that there has to be more
answers to the questions.

Certainly, again, a traffic study for four days. This has been since
September. We have not -- we would not have had those e-mails broken in
"The Record" yesterday if it were not that we passed subpoena powers to the
legislature.

So, we need to get subpoena which means there`s no transparency there,
there`s a culture of inclusiveness. It`s a political patronage mill at the
Port Authority.

Certainly, it doesn`t make any sense. I`m angry and shocked and,
quite frankly, he did veto a bill that I worked on in a bipartisan way, in
a bi-state way with members from New York, and he vetoed it, and it was a
Port Authority Transparency and Accountability Act. The Port Authority
needs to be accountable and transparent.

MATTHEWS: Yes. Do you buy the fact all four people around him
appointed by him, Stepien and Wildstein and Baroni and Kelly, all operated
without his knowledge? All of them?

HUTTLE: I believe that we will get the answers to those questions.
And I don`t know if he called them out on it. I mean, he certainly cleaned
house. He fired two members of his staff.

But he did that two through of his top chiefs of staff. I don`t know
what the conversation was. I don`t know the reason for it. I think we
need to get to the bottom of this.

MATTHEWS: Let me go back to Michael Grimm.

Congressman, I`ve always liked you on the show. I want you on
forever. But I want to ask you a question about how you recognize
politics.

I know if this were a Democratic governor of Jersey, exactly the same
thing, wouldn`t you be skeptical if that Democrat came out and said, I
don`t know what was going on in my office. I don`t know what my deputy
chief of staff was doing. I don`t know what my campaign manager was doing.
I don`t know these guys they give these jobs to at the Port Authority are
up to.

I don`t know nothing.

Where you do get this idea? You can send one e-mail and, all of a
sudden, the bridge stops. Who gives people this authority? Wouldn`t that
be a reasonable problem to know what the hell is going on?

GRIMM: Very fair question.

MATTHEWS: Yes, a Democrat doing it.

GRIMM: Very fair question.

If it was a Democrat I worked with, again, when I was an undercover
agent who had reputation as U.S. attorney that this governor has, if it`s a
Democrat that had the reputation for the last four years, working
bipartisan and having an exemplary record for the state of New Jersey, then
I would -- then I would not be skeptical.

The last thing is, here, I`m hearing from Democrats how outraged they
are, they`re angry this, that, the other thing. From the Democratic Party,
let`s be honest here, from Fast and Furious, to Benghazi, to the IRS
scandal --

MATTHEWS: I knew you`d --

GRIMM: Where have the Democrats been angry? It is ridiculous.

MATTHEWS: I wish I could erase the record. I know what you did
there.

GRIMM: It`s ridiculous.

MATTHEWS: You vomited out the usual charges against the Democrats.
Fine, nice work.

GRIMM: Right. So, let`s not be complete hypocrites.

MATTHEWS: No, no, I`m not being a hypocrite. I`m fascinated with
this story. I`m fascinated.

GRIMM: Of course.

MATTHEWS: With the amount of people involved in this story. It`s an
amazing story of how things can go really wrong when there`s the wrong
culture around, the wrong attitude as we say in Philly. Attitude. I`m
telling you --

GRIMM: But I`m glad he stood up and he owned it.

MATTHEWS: There was some bad attitude in there. And this governor is
going to have to explain.

By the way, suppose you tonight, are Bridget Kelly, thinking the guy
I`m working for, thinking I`m serving, has done this to me.

Anyway, Congressman Michael Grimm, thank you. Please come back.

Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle, same to you. Thanks for coming.

We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Let me finish tonight with this story that`s not finished
tonight. It`s this Chris Christie story.

Don`t you want to know what Bridget Kelly has to say about being
nailed as the number one bad guy here, being nailed in the role by the
governor she`s been serving all these years? I like to hear her
explanation why she believed it, holding up traffic on the George
Washington Bridge was a step she thought furthered the governor`s political
interest, would you?

I like to know why the guy at the bridge authority took orders to stop
the traffic from someone in the governor`s office, why he did so just
because she sent an e-mail saying it was time to start traffic problems for
Fort Lee.

And all of this was going on without the governor`s knowledge, without
his knowing the least little bit about how this office, his own office does
business. I didn`t do nothing, he said, I didn`t say nothing, I didn`t
hear nothing, I didn`t speak nothing.

Well, that`s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.

"ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES" starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
BE UPDATED.
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